Love and War: “Zvizdan” [Croatia 2015]

Tihana Lazovic and Goran Markovic from "The High Sun" 2015, CroatiaDalibor Matanic’s film “Zvizdan” [Eng. Title: The High Sun] gives a unique perspective on a topic rarely discussed with frankness by people in what was once Yugoslavia; their hitherto simmering discontent leading to and following the rebirth of their respective nations. Using two neighbouring villages as a backdrop, the composite film narrates three separate tales set ten years apart from each other. Apart from the main cast who appear in different roles in each of the segment, the common theme running through each story is love, and war.

"The High Sun" aka "Zvizdan" (2015, Croatia)1991. In the first segment, we see teenagers-in-love Jelena (Tihana Lazovic) and Ivan (Goran Markovic) preparing to elope to Zagreb. They belong to neighbouring villages, one predominantly Croat and one Serb, and will become unwitting protagonists in the looming ethnic conflict at their doorstep. After Jelena’s brother forcibly drives her back to their village, Ivan runs after the car but is prevented from entering by rookie militias positioned at a make-shift check post. By the time Jelena could free herself from her brother’s clutches and run towards her beloved Ivan, shots are fired…

From "The High Sun" (Zvizdan), Croatia, 20152001. Natasa (Tihana Lazovic) and her mother return to their war-scarred village. Years of conflict had left their home uninhabitable and the village, depopulated. They hire Ante (Goran Markovic), the only available handyman, to fix their property, and he sets to work immediately. Natasa’s sullen attitude despite her obvious physical attraction to Ante had a reason; people from his village had killed her brother during the war. Upon finding an occasion, Natasa mentions her misgivings about her brother’s murder to Ante, and learns that Ante’s dad was also killed by people from her village. Against this run of play, Natasa surprises Ante and initiates sex with him. Just as we begin to make sense of what was happening,  Natasa’s reaction following the sex underscores that age-old prejudices don’t fade away easily…

Tihana Lazovic and Goran Markovic from "The High Sun" 2015, Croatia2011. In the final segment, university student Luka (Goran Markovic) and friend are on their way to a seaside resort to help organise a rave party. But they need to pass through Luka’s village to get there, one he left a few years earlier with a cloud hanging over him. Luka visits his parents but couldn’t bear to stay until supper and leaves, wandering instead towards former girlfriend Marija’s (Tihana Lazovic) house in the neighbouring village. Marija lets him in reluctantly, but is unwilling to forgive him for abandoning her after she became pregnant. Luka was only following his mother’s orders back then when he stopped getting involved with people from ‘the other side’, but has deeply regretted it ever since.

Tihana Lazovic and Goran Markovic from "Zvizdan" 2015, CroatiaAfter being asked to leave, Luka drowns his sorrows in drugs and alcohol at a local party his friends were attending, but when the next day dawns, invariably follows the path leading back to Marija’s house. Upon not hearing a response to his knock, he sits by the front steps and waits. Marija takes her time to open the door, come outside and sit beside him. Both stare into the distance without talking, and after a while, she goes back in, leaving the door ajar…

"The High Sun" (Zvizdan), Croatia, 2015While the first segment deals with heroic love for its own sake, the second is about love prevented by prejudice, and the third is about reconciliation following past misgivings. The individual segments work on their own as distinct short films and give them an universal appeal. But as foreigners untrained to tiny details that the locals might discern, we couldn’t help wondering why Croats and Serbs, who don’t just share a geography, but also culture and religion, could distrust each other through centuries. Surely there ought to be more that connects than separates them which, were it not for partisan politicking, might even go unnoticed. The film’s production, a joint Croatian-Serbian-Slovenian initiative, captures in exquisite detail the pain and hopes of ordinary people of the period through these love stories. It has plenty of heart, conveying an important message not just for local consumption, but also the world. Highy Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL] | Re-synched English Subtitles (PAL DVD)

 

Note: My justification for this rambling review, replete with major spoilers, is not as much to ‘help out’ site visitors who’ll never get to see the film, but highlight an important, universal message contained within it as another year dawns – clumsily if need be. Whichever part of the world we come from, our individual universes all contain their own little Balkan cracks; some we may have caused or directly blame others for causing, and some that were inherited from our peers. With every new crack regardless of who caused it, mobility within our own universe shrinks. What’s amazing is that it doesn’t take much to smooth over most of these cracks, and discover that your individual universe is infinitely bigger than you even imagined.

Happy 2019, guys!

 

 

The Nudity: Tihana Lazovic, Lukrecija Tudor, and others
Two scenes from the film feature nudity. The first is from the second segment when Natasa and Ante have sex. The other scene, from the third segment, involves Luka and Dinka (Lukrecija Tudor), a hitchhiking reveller – they later join others to go skinny-dipping.

Tihana Lazovic and Lukrecija Tudor from the film,

Tihana Lazovic, Lukrecija Tudor, and others from the film, “Zvizdan” aka
“The High Sun” 2015, Croatia.

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It’s an insane world! “Tag der idioten” [1981, West Germany]

Werner Schroeter’s films are pretty much like the man himself, less talked about but theatrical and larger than life in person. Among his last films acknowledged as part of the Neuer Deutscher Film canon, “Tag der Idioten” [Eng. Title: Day of the Idiots] is an exploration of people’s fear of accepting their own eccentricities, idiosyncrasies and imperfections in a conformist world.

Carole Bouquet in "Tag der Idioten" (1981)Carole (Carole Bouquet) snaps one day, unsure anymore of everything she had cared about thus far; her boyfriend, job, and standing in society. Frustrated with the real world, she leaves home, and after flushing the contents from her handbag down the toilet, orders three Viennese coffees for herself at a posh cafe, only to smear them all over her face and the table. “I need to breathe…”, an angst-ridden Carole mutters.

Carole Bouquet and Ingrid Caven in "Tag der Idioten" [1981]She gets herself declared clinically insane after accusing a neighbour of being a terrorist and leading police on a wild goose chase. In order to avoid prison, she voluntarily checks into Dr. Laura’s (Ingrid Caven) Victorian-era asylum; the doctor is aware that Carole isn’t insane in a conventional sense, but nevertheless accepts her as a patient. She’d been experimenting on patients ‘healing themselves’ through anti-psychiatry and hopes it might help Carole too.

Carole Bouquet in "Tag der Idioten" aka "Day of the Idiots" (1981)Carole finds the patients in the asylum simultaneously fascinating and repulsive, and notices among them the very woman she’d reported as being a terrorist. She ‘escapes’ the asylum more than once, but turns herself in each time, for she’s no longer sure if the world outside is any more saner than the asylum. Carole isn’t happy with either worlds and begins to find the very idea of living meaningless…

Carole Bouquet from "Tag der Idioten" [1981]The impressionistic melodrama however abandons any attempt at making a point and gets consumed by its own madness, by becoming a voyeur to the excess on screen. The film isn’t nearly as depraved as some of the exploitation films of the era, but will regardless shock viewers unaccustomed to seeing scenes of urophilia (golden showers) in mainstream cinema.

Christine Kaufmann and Ida Di Benedetto in "Tag der Idioten" (1981)The relative obscurity of the film, despite the director’s auteur-credentials and featuring a then current ‘Bond girl’ in a starring role, has prevented one of Carole Bouquet’s most memorable performances from being seen by a wider audience. The film also features an ensemble cast that include Schroeter’s long term muse and collaborator Magdalena Montezuma, the beautiful Christine Kaufmann, and Ida Di Benedetto. This might not be one of Shcroeter’s masterpieces, but his signature style and feminist message is written all over the film, and for that at least, it is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.de 2-DVD Link
Willow Springs, Tag der Idioten [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Carole Bouquet, Mostefa Djadjam, Dana Medrická, Magdalena Montezuma, Ida Di Benedetto, and others
The film begins with a long scene of a stunning Carole Bouquet pacing up and down the room completely in the nude as her oblivious boyfriend (Mostefa Djadjam) sleeps. She appears nude in two other scenes later in the film. Czech actress Dana Medrická appears topless on a few occasions as a patient with an urge to flash in front of others. Magdalena Montezuma walks nude into a party, asking to be placed in prison for an imagined crime. Ida Di Benedetto, who plays a deeply religious nurse, is briefly seen topless while punishing herself. There is further nudity in a bathroom scene where for probably the first time in mainstream cinema, an actor is shown actually urinating on another (unlike ‘Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom’ where everything was simulated). The scene is nonsexual, but the shock value is in the banal manner of its presentation.

Carole Bouquet, Magdalena Montezuma and others from Werner Schroeter's drama, "Tag der Idioten" aka "Day of the Idiots", 1981, West Germany.

Carole Bouquet, Magdalena Montezuma and others from Werner Schroeter’s drama,
“Tag der Idioten” aka “Day of the Idiots”, 1981, West Germany.

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A brief review: “Vientos de la Habana” [Cuba, Spain 2016]

Vientos de la Habana (2016)Félix Viscarret’s crime thriller, “Vientos de la Habana” [Eng. Title: Four Seasons in Havana: The Winds of Lent] is a feature-length spin-off of a TV mini series that was rather well received in Spain. Since I’ve neither seen the TV series nor read the novel from which the film’s adapted, this one’s
gonna be brief.

Vientos de la Habana (2016)Set in Havana, the film begins with the murder of young school teacher Lissete (Mariam Hernández) in her apartment, and the arrival of detective Mario Conde (Jorge Perugorría) to investigate. A post-mortem indicates the presence of drugs, alcohol, and semen in Lissete’s body. Conde sets out to piece together events leading up to the fateful night, which will reveal hitherto unknown facets of Lissete and her dealings with some of her colleagues and students.

Juana Acosta in "Vientos de la Habana" (2016)Running parallel to the above storyline is Conde’s own story. A recovering alcoholic, he meets Karina (Juana Acosta) – his neighbour’s daughter and a city-based lawyer, and falls in love. They date for a while but Conde wants to take their relationship to the next level. His circle of loyal old friends will help Conde in different ways on both his endeavours…

Vientos de la Habana (2016)Of late, I’d become addicted to Scandi and Belgian crime thrillers and felt the need for a ‘healthy’ change, and a passionate Latin crime thriller could just be the ticket. But the film cannot be called a traditional noire; yes there are elements of noire in it, but the plot is straightforward and the characters are far too well-rounded with barely any conflicts and rough edges. It can more honestly be described as a grey-noire. I did however love the cinematography and editing that authentically captures the sultry and faded-glory of Havana, and the casting was great too. Recommended Viewing!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Mariam Hernández, Pilar Mayo, and Juana Acosta
Mariam Hernández who plays school teacher Lissete is nude or partially nude in most of her scenes in the apartment. A nude Pilar Mayo is briefly seen in the bed of a crime boss. As Lissete, an ageless Juana Acosta appears nude in at least three scenes in the company of veteran Cuban actor and protagonist Jorge Perugorría.

Mariam Hernández and Juana Acosta from the Cuban crime drama, "Vientos de la Habana" aka "Four Seasons of Havana: The Winds of Lent" (2016).

Mariam Hernández and Juana Acosta from the Cuban crime drama, “Vientos de la Habana”
aka “Four Seasons of Havana: The Winds of Lent” (2016).

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A brief review: “Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern” [Switzerland 2015]

Stina Werenfels’s film “Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern” [Eng. Title: Dora or The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents] is an unusual drama concerning a young woman growing up with a developmental disorder.

Victoria Schulz in Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern [2015]After Dora (Victoria Shulz) turns eighteen, mother Kristin (Jenny Schily) decides to discontinue her daughter’s medication after finding her in better spirits without them. The opening scenes are of Dora enjoying her birthday party among friends and relatives.

Victoria Schulz and Jenny Schily in Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern [2015]Stopping her medication also paves the way for Dora’s sexual awakening. Naturally inquisitive, she becomes increasingly interested in sex and apart from exploring her body, is also keen to experience sex, sometimes leading to awkward situations within the household.

Victoria Schulz and Lars Eidinger in Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern [2015]She sets her eyes on a dashing and sporty car driving Peter (Lars Eidinger), and one day follows him into a public toilet to befriend and offer him a fruit as gift. Before she could realise what was happening, Peter takes advantage of Dora and abuses her sexually in the toilet.

Jenny Schily, Victoria Schulz, and Urs Jucker in "Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern" [2015]But Dora enjoyed that experience and keenly pursues Peter for more such encounters, who willingly obliges despite Kristin objecting to his exploitation of a vulnerable Dora. Kirsten also pleads unsuccessfully with mental health authorities to stop Peter from approaching her daughter. Before long, things become more complicated when Dora becomes pregnant and a question arises over her ability to raise children normally. For Kristin, it couldn’t have come at a worse time when she was hoping to conceive another child of her own..!

Victoria Schulz in "Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern" [2015]It’s not very often that we get to see sexuality among people with disabilities depicted in film, even more so when it comes to those with mental disorder. It could also become a vexing topic when normal actors end up performing characters with disabilities, but to their credit, the director and Ms. Shulz have brought to life a convincing and sympathetic character in Dora. However, I felt the film was overreaching itself when it tried to add additional plot points that perhaps were not really necessary. But Dora does redeem the film, and at least for her soaring spirit, this film is Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Victoria Schulz, Jenny Schily, and others
It is not often than we get to see mentally disabled characters depicted as sexual beings; something of an unspoken taboo in films, and that’s why I think the film’s nude scenes cover new ground. There are at least four scenes in which Victoria Shulz appears nude. Jenny Schily appears nude in one scene shot from a distance. Assorted characters also appear nude during a swingers’ sex session.

Victoria Schulz and Jenny Schily in scenes from Stina Werenfels's Swiss drama, "Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern" aka "Dora or The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents" [2015].

Victoria Schulz and Jenny Schily in scenes from the Swiss drama, “Dora oder Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern” aka “Dora or The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents” [2015].

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A brief review: “Cambio de Sexo” [1977 Spain]

One of Vicente Aranda’s lesser known (and until recently, quite rare) films, “Cambio de sexo” [Eng. Title: Forbidden Love] was also the beginning of a collaboration with his life-long muse Victoria Abril. The film, about a hitherto taboo topic concerning gender identity and sex-change, remains a landmark in Spanish mainstream cinema despite any of its technical shortcomings.

Victoria Abril in Cambio de sexo (1977)Seventeen year old José María (Victoria Abril) is a gawky effeminate lad who’s bullied and harassed at school for his looks and inability to fit-in, to the extent that the school even suggests moving him to a different school. Furious at the suggestion and determined to man up his son, José María’s father (Fernando Sancho) sends him away, boot-camp style, to his uncle in the countryside to get used to some hard manual labour. What the father fails, or refuses to understand is that José María actually sees himself as a girl trapped in a boy’s body.

Victoria Abril in Cambio de sexo [1977]Consequently, the father takes José María to a cabaret-brothel to initiate him in  heterosexual sex with the help of Fanny (Rosa Morata), the lead performer and also one of the father’s lovers. Things obviously don’t go as predicted for the father and before long, José María had left home unannounced to begin life anew as María José in glitzy downtown Barcelona.

Victoria Abril and Bibi Andersen in Cambio de sexo (1977)Working as a hairdresser, María José meets and gets acquainted with Bibi Andersen (Bibi Andersen), a star transsexual performer at the cabaret she visited with her father earlier. Bibi introduces María José to the cabaret owner and also becomes her mentor by giving her some much needed worldly advice and encouraging her to train as a cabaret dancer.

Victoria Abril in Cambio de sexo (1977 Spain)As María José’s showbiz career blossoms and adulthood beckons, she goes through the familiar exhilarating, and at times painful journey through rejection, defiance, and camaraderie, and in the process discovers love. The film ends with María José successfully transitioning into a woman after gender reassignment surgery.

Even though the teenage Abril was already a well known name in Spain through TV when the film came out, she had yet to find her feet in cinema, and this film would mark the beginning of Victoria Abril’s stellar career. It goes without saying that apart from her exemplary performance, Victoria Abril is at her adorable best. I couldn’t resist sharing this rather subversive scene from a sequence that’s disturbingly reminiscent of a oh-so-innocent Judy Garland from The Wizard of Oz. The scene is anything but, and is surprisingly also well choreographed.

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Bibi Andersen in Cambio de sexo (1977)A unique product of Spain’s destape, the film succinctly captures the spirit of openness, liberty, and optimism following the end of Spain’s fascist era. While the amazing Bibi Andersen – a transgender in real life, had been a regular in Almodóvar’s twisted classics, she often played the female even when there were transgender characters in the same film; those roles were typically played by women. This is one of the rare films where Bibi Andersen actually plays herself. For followers of Spanish cinema and its evolution, this film is essentially Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Blu-ray Link [Region 2]

 

The Nudity: Rosa Morata, Maria Elias, Victoria Abril, Bibi Andersen, and others
As one would expect, the film features several scenes of nudity. Rosa Morata and others appear nude on stage during a cabaret. Maria Elias who plays María José’s sister is seen briefly nude while changing. Victoria Abril is nude often, including a couple a scenes on stage, and Bibi Andersen performs a memorable striptease.

Victoria Abril, Bibi Andersen, and others from Vicente Aranda's groundbreaking "Cambio de sexo" [1977, Spain]

Victoria Abril, Bibi Andersen, and others from Vicente Aranda’s groundbreaking
“Cambio de sexo” [1977, Spain]

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